Living a High Impact Life

The early Christians rejoiced when they were deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the Church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

Martin Luther King Jr.

During a meeting a few months ago, a friend asked the group “When you enter the room, are you the thermostat or the thermometer?” That conversation marked the the first time I had heard the thermostat/thermometer analogy and I wrote it down as a pithy expression of a great concept: are you reflecting the temperature around you or setting it?

Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. While vacationing in Florida, I found myself in a conversation with the owner of a beach service company which has pampered us during many vacations. When asked about the challenges of the last few months, he responded: “I think many people are going to learn something about themselves this year.”

I wonder, what have we learned?

In the face of lockdowns, worldwide pandemic, economic difficulties, and a future even more uncertain that usual, are we learning more about ourselves? Are our priorities more clear?

Last week, I wrote a post about patience, making the point that big “P” Patience is about the long game, reflecting our need to endure the obstacles, continue to nurture our dreams, and then allow things to unfold. My friend Ken commented that alongside Patience, we need big “P” Purpose to guide us on our journey. How very true.

Are the rough edges of today’s difficulties casting more light upon Purpose, Priorities, and Patience for you? As you consider them, are the “P’s” of your life a measure of the world around you or are they setting the temperature?

The curious thing about the conversations and questions above is that they are relevant and challenging no matter where we are in our journey and no matter what the circumstances may be in the world around us. Why? Because they center on our calling to live a high impact life.

We don’t exist to wander purposelessly from problem to problem. Sure, there are times when we feel that we’re cast about on life’s temperamental oceans, bobbing to the rhythm and chaos of some unseen power. We feel those forces acting upon us but they are not what defines us or our purpose. We are called to more.

A high impact life is about making a difference. It is not about self-gratification, self-actualization, or even self-fulfillment. Those may result when we make a difference but they are not our purpose and should not be our focus. Impact reflects who you are and what you do. Your impact is the shadow you cast and the imprint you leave. You exist to make a difference. Having a positive impact on the world around you is your purpose.

Impact comes from:

  • the time you invest
  • the words you choose
  • the love you give
  • the gifts you share
  • the times you show up for others
  • the voice you add to the conversation
  • the good you do
  • the tempo you set
  • the energy you bring
  • the times you forgive
  • the determination you show
  • the life you live

Are we learning something about ourselves this year? We are so easily distracted and our tendency is toward complication. Complicated emotions. Complicated drama. Complicated relationships. Complicated politics. Complicated objectives. We create complication in our distractions and allow the noise to drive us where it may. In the midst of all of it, are we any closer to clarity for ourselves or our lives?

Remove complexity by focusing on impact. The better form of this post’s original question is: when you enter someone’s life, are you a thermostat or a thermometer? Your ability to make a difference for other people is literally a superpower. A gift beyond gifts. Stop for a moment and consider how simple things would be if you approached every interaction with the self-less intention to make a difference for the other person. If it seems impossible, then consider the difference you’d make if you did it half the time.

I’m not suggesting Mother Teresa’esque sainthood, though it is not a bad thing toward which to aim. Living a high impact life begins in your own home, at the office, in the classroom, on the Zoom call, in the coffee shop, and on the road. Your calling to make a difference starts with the people in your circle and doesn’t necessarily mean feeding the multitudes. Your purpose may be charity and you may be uniquely suited to broadly generous social contributions. However, for most of us, working toward high impact in our immediate world is an incredibly powerful and opportune place to begin.

Whatever your profession, your vocation can still be high impact. Wherever you live, there exists the opportunity to make a difference. Whoever you once were, there is still time to be the person you always wanted to be. However you’ve lived, you can still chose to live for the positive place you might hold in the life of another. Here, we begin to be the best version of ourselves. The most capable, most generous, most sincere, and most caring individuals are the thermostats for others. They are the ones living high impact lives.

  • Shari Frank

    Beautifully written, Phil! It is the little things in life that can make a huge difference.

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